Thisssss One’s for Mom and Don

Mom and Don came to visit, as they always do, this fall. It was October already by the time we got to see them. We had a great time: good food (including all of our favorite restaurants), a nice hike (I was at work, alas), a trip up to the Great Stupa at Redfeather Lakes, and time to chat (never enough). As exciting as a political conversation about babies in day care is (and Don and I enjoyed it very much over beer/margaritas at Efrain’s), it was at home that the major excitement occurred. We were all getting ready to go somewhere or other, but Mom and Don had beaten Dave and me to the front room. Mom opened the door, and that’s when

THE YELLING STARTED!

“A snake, a snake; a snake is coming in the door!” Mom yelled.

Don yelled something like, “Where’s the snake?” Then he yelled some more. There was general commotion. Mom kept yelling, “in the door!” Water was suddenly sploshing everywhere, I caught a quick glimpse of Don with the white plastic watering can in his hand, and the door was banged closed.

Dave and I had been keeping to the living room, incredulously watching the scene unfolding in front of us. Once the fuss died down, it turned out that Mom had opened the front door and our friendly garter snake had made a beeline for the front room. Don didn’t believe that the snake was actually coming in, and he figured it was probably just a worm when Mom started yelling about a snake COMING IN. So when the snake got past the threshold and he realized that it was no worm, he tried to grab it and then grabbed the watering can. Between his hands and the can, he managed to toss the snake out into the yard. He also managed to splash water all over. We pointed out where we thought the snake had been hiding, along the house. We see him pretty frequently—although never inside!

Update

The other weekend, I was painting the trim on the front windows when I saw our snake. I remembered that the camera was in the car, so I took a couple of photos of him hiding at the base of the mum to show Mom and Don. He got nervous and started to slither away, toward the front door. What the heck? Was he heading toward the concrete stoop and driveway, where it would be hard to stay out of sight? I kept snapping photos until he poked his head…and then more of his body…and then more of his body…and then more, and more, into a little hole beneath the door frame. I’m inclined to let him stay. He’s very beautiful and I imagine he eats bugs trying to get in the front door. I just hope he doesn’t make another break for it.

The Second Weekend of November and the First Blog

Hi everyone! I’ve been wanting to start a blog for a while, but it never seemed like the right time. Nothing momentus ever happened. Well, nothing momentus enough. On the other hand, Dave and I would like to keep in touch with all of you, so I guess now is as good a time as any to begin. I can warm up for the inevitable New Year’s resolution, in which I promise to blog every day. Which will likely last, as these things do, until the second week of January. Maybe you can keep me honest.

Hi everyone! I’ve been wanting to start a blog for a while, but it never seemed like the right time. Nothing momentus ever happened. Well, nothing momentus enough. On the other hand, Dave and I would like to keep in touch with all of you, so I guess now is as good a time as any to begin. I can warm up for the inevitable New Year’s resolution, in which I promise to blog every day. Which will likely last, as these things do, until the second week of January. Maybe you can keep me honest.

We had a reasonably eventful weekend, actually. After some discussion, I wound up riding Tatonka to work on Friday because Dave had to go back to the doctor for a week-long sore throat, so he needed to drive Taco. I couldn’t ride the bus because I had a Rowman & Littlefield reunion to attend after work. I’ve only been gone four months, but several friends and I had been planning to get as many ex-R&L-ers together as we could. We thought of more than fifty people who have passed through the Boulder office! We wound up with thirteen people that evening, and we had a lovely time at Dolan’s, which Dave calls the “old people’s steakhouse.” (He might have stolen that from someone.) I’d never been there before, but the happy hour prices were great and there’s a cool room way at the back that easily accommodated us. Anyway, I had fun catching up with old friends, and I was among the last group to leave. When I got out to the parking lot, my motorcycle wouldn’t start! It tried to turn over a couple of times early on, but mostly made a “cccccccc” sound when I pressed the starter. I took out my “MOM” (motorcycle owner’s manual) and tried to find the problem. The manual mentioned that the engine might be flooded, so I followed the instructions for fixing that, to no avail. I went back into the restaurant and called Dave to tell him what was going on, and then I gathered up my helmet and two motorcycle bags, which I didn’t want to leave out overnight. I headed for the bus home. I was walking down the wrong side of the road when I saw the bus, behind me a bit. I managed, miraculously, to cross the road before the bus and took off running to get to the stop. Running in motorcycle boots is uncomfortable and it was really awkward with all that stuff in my hands. I could tell I wasn’t going to make it, and the bus only comes once an hour, so I was feeling pretty dejected (while still running). But the bus pulled up next to me and the door opened! The driver shouted, “I wasn’t going to make you run all that way!”

Perhaps my luck had turned! I got on, set my stuff down, and found the right change in my jacket–another surprise, since I don’t usually have cash. The driver told me that he’s a biker and he stopped because he saw my helmet. “Where’s the bike?” he wanted to know. I explained about the noise and he said that the battery must be dead. He said I could buy another one at Wal-Mart, much cheaper than going to a bike shop. I said, “But what if I don’t shop at Wal-Mart?” and the only other guy on the bus pointed at me and said “right on.” Then he pulled the cord and got off. The bus driver–Michael–and I got to chatting about bikes and his previous life. He rides a Harley, has been in two bad accidents, and keeps a couple of Hondas around to work on. He did a stint as a physicist, working on lasers, in California, but quit when he realized that his co-workers never got his jokes. Plus, he was just doing the work to make his dad proud. He quit the high-paying job, sold his house, moved to Boulder, and still enjoys driving a bus, because he likes to be around people and, as a little kid, he always thought it would be cool to drive something that big. Did I believe him? Mostly. Let’s say this: I really wanted to believe him. And I was pleased to hear that his dad wasn’t disappointed.

It turned out that the bus route was to Erie, which is nearby, but isn’t Lafaytte, where I was trying to go. So Michael let me off as close to home as the route went, at the King Soopers where I usually buy groceries. (Dad, if you’re reading this, it’s at Baseline and 287.) I called Dave to pick me up, which didn’t take too long. The next morning I woke up worrying about Tatonka. Dave had a meeting with some church folks at a coffee shop in Lafayette, so we had breakfast together (Santiago’s burritos–the cheapest and best breakfast in town!) and then parted ways. I drove into Boulder and discovered that CU was playing football at home that afternoon. That meant that Dolan’s was renting parking spaces for $15, but luckily my bike was still there and wasn’t ticketed. I took out the battery, following the instructions in my MOM closely, and making due with the tools I had. I brought some extra sockets, but I brought the wrong wrench and couldn’t attach them. I ended up making a handle of sorts by jamming an Allen key into the end of the socket and holding my breath. It worked! I learned a few interesting things about some tools I should add to the kit that came with the bike. I drove the battery over to Powersports, where I bought Tatonka. They confirmed that the battery was dead and sold me a new one (at, I later discovered, a very steep markup!) and a trickle charger, which I’d been meaning to get anyway. Since the guy told me the battery needed to be charged, which he told me would take six hours, I met Dave and we headed home. What do you know? It was charged in about an hour, so I’m sure it would’ve started the bike. Oh, well. I learned another interesting thing about not buying stuff without looking around first, even if you’re eager to get your bike home safely in the garage.

New topic, having to do with Saturday afternoon.

We recently had the house painted, and it’s gorgeous. The main color is Wine Barrel, which is a red with a lot of brown. The trim is Mountain Elk, a green with a lot of gray. We generally do home improvements ourselves, and were totally thrilled to come home each day to see more and more of the house painted. Without us doing anything! If you’re in the Boulder area and need a painter, we recommend Bill Wilson of We Bee Paintin’. He was terrific and reasonably priced. (Plus he’s a Browns fan!) However, we had asked him to match the paint scheme of the houses next door, so he’d painted some of the window trim Wine Barrel. We decided that we wanted it to be Mountain Elk instead. I wanted to get it done before the winter, so we wouldn’t be putting new paint on a slightly faded house. (Even in the winter, the sun is out almost every day, and the UV is powerful!) So I went out and painted the first coat of most of the trim. That felt like a good accomplishment, and then we drove into town to put the new battery into Tatonka. It didn’t take too long to reverse the process, with better tools this time, and it sure was nice to hear the engine start up!

Then we headed over to church for a concert. Our music director, Jim, is just terrific, and he has a bunch of talented friends. This concert featured him on piano, our organist, Kristina, on organ, and dynamic soprano Julie Mark, singing the heck out of some opera music. How nice to hear live music on a Saturday night! We got home in time to watch Eastern Promises, our newest Netflix rental. I’d heard that I’d have the pleasure of seeing Viggo Mortensen in his altogether (albeit in a knife fight in a sauna), so I’d been wanting to see it. Too much gore in places, although I suspect that’s normal in a Russian gangster movie. I think I ended up liking it more than Dave did, even though I thought it ended right in the middle of the story. And of course, as always, he had to explain who was who the whole time and what the heck they were talking about. I’m one of those people who never figures out the answer to the murder mystery until the author tells me…and sometimes I don’t even really understand it then.

Sunday

Sunday was nice too. I woke up at 8:00 a.m. with the sun in my eyes, so I got up and made this frittata I’ve been wanting to cook. I was looking for a recipe that includes both pumpkin and zucchini (two vegetables that seem to work in my garden). You brown the vegetables and then pour eggs mixed with cream and feta cheese in with the veggies. Then bake. The Australian recipe I got online said “in a moderately hot oven.” The translating from metric to English wasn’t too hard (thanks to Google), but since I’m not a grandma yet, I don’t understand directions like “a pinch,” “moderately hot,” or “until it’s workable.” I tried 350 and, lo and behold, it worked! I thought it was delicious, especially with pepper. Dave thought it was too sweet, but ate it anyway. He’s such a good guy! Then we went to church and listened to a great sermon that tied chosing to live as God asks (the five silly and five wise bridesmaids) with stewardship. (I also spent plenty of time making faces at John Brinkman, our friends’ six-month-old. He was in a great mood and wearing little overalls with a football on them and a matching shirt. How could I resist?) Then I dropped Dave at The Laughing Goat, a terrific coffee shop in town (Best. lattes. ever. Well, okay, they’re really good at Amante and Trident and Vic’s, too.) I went home to finish the painting, which included trying to surprise Dave by painting the trim on the two high windows that our ladder wouldn’t reach. I sat on the windowsill and leaned out. (Carefully, Mom.) I also did the second coat on yesterday’s work. And then a second coat on the high windows.

It was 3:30 by the time I was done, so I drove into town to meet Dave, Ben, Christina, Elijah, and Matt for a bit of soccer. It was a gorgeous day, warm enough for short sleeves, even for me. I remember that November 1 was that warm, and now we’re already at November 9 and the sun is still out! The weather is supposed to turn crummy tomorrow. After soccer we had some dinner (Little Ceasar’s Hot and Ready pizza) and watched some Sunday night football (the Giants beat the Eagles). Now I’m here, starting a blog. Not too shabby! I think I’m even ready for work tomorrow. It’s a three-day week because we’re headed to Portland. But more on that later.

Our house, pre-paint job, showing the new colors. (Thanks, Mom and Don!) Pink. We were ready for a change.
Our house, pre-paint job, showing the new colors. (Thanks, Mom and Don!) Pink...we were ready for a change.

Spanish Cave

Pete and Randy Outside the Entrance to Spanish Cave
Pete and Randy Outside the Entrance to Spanish Cave

The first weekend of August, Pete Bronski and I headed up into the mountains to visit the much ballyhooed Spanish Cave. Rumors of Spanish gold and forced slavery have surround this cave, but over the years, all of these have been shown false. Nevertheless, the cave has earned a reputation for being tremendously dangerous and intensely cold with bone-chilling winds. Given these realities and the need for some technical ropework within the cave, we were both quite happy to be teaming up with a couple of other experienced cavers, Randy Macan and Paul Mozal.

Paul was planning to head up to the campsite the previous evening, and Randy would join us late Friday night after driving all the way from Fort Collins. Pete and I left Boulder at around 8:00 in the morning and we had a relaxing 4-hour drive before we started the hike towards the cave. Not long after hitting the 4WD portion of South Colony Lakes Road, we found the parking pullout. We grabbed a little lunch before hefting on our packs and beginning the hike. The hike began on well marked trails, but we quickly turned off onto a climber’s trail. After losing the trail a couple of times and debating our route, we popped out of the trees and made a bee-line for the limestone.

Finding the entrance to Spanish Cave was pretty easy, but locating the campsite proved much harder. It turns out we were way too high on the mountain, yet we didn’t want to lose altitude because we knew we’d have to hike back up in the morning. This caused us to spend a couple of hours zig-zagging through scree and brush looking for a campsite, but there was nothing to be found. The slope of the mountain was far too steep to yield a comfortable resting spot. We tried yelling for Paul and got a response, but it was from somewhere very far off in the distance. Desperate, we headed lower and sure enough we found a delightful little meadow with a large collection of bones. We tried Paul one more time, and the response was much closer. After hefting our packs once more, we were quickly united with him in a small clearing just far enough into the trees to have been invisible from farther up on the mountain.

Our Shelter on Marble Mountain
Our Shelter on Marble Mountain

At this point, we set up our shelter and broke open the food and beer. I was delighted to learn while packing for this trip that New Belgium had just started putting Fat Tire into cans. This was quite the stroke of good fortune for backpacking. After several hours of eating, drinking, chatting, and relaxing we finally heard from Randy as he was making his way towards the camp under the cover of darkness. A few cell phone calls and a round or two fired into the air and Randy came bounding down the trail into camp. Not long thereafter, we went to sleep.

Pete on Rope in Frank's Nasty Pit

The next morning we all slept in and were a bit lazy. Because the cave was only a few hundred vertical feet above camp, even a long trip wouldn’t require a super early start. After everyone got up, ate breakfast, and double-checked all of the caving gear, we grabbed our packs and headed up to find the upper entrance, Frank’s Nasty Pit. Paul was hiking with the aid of an adventure umbrella for shade. Looking back down the hill as he trailed behind us, it was a bit as though Eliza from My Fair Lady was along on the trip. Paul would end up taking the umbrella along on the trip through the cave and of course it would break. If you think you need a caving umbrella, definitely choose the Go-Lite model. They replaced the broken umbrella with no questions asked! After a few more minutes, we located the upper entrance to the Spanish Cave system. Frank’s Nasty Pit is pretty small, and Paul was a bit worried that I wouldn’t fit into the cave. We had all donned vertical gear in anticipation of the rappel immediately beyond the entrance, but I ended up taking off my harness just in case the entrance proved too tight. That proved to be unnecessary, and putting the harness back on in the tight little room was extra challenging. After a short little drop, we regrouped in the registry room and prepared for the big rappel. This one used about 200 feet of static line with about half of the drop being a free-hanging rappel. At the bottom of the rappel, we stripped off the vertical gear and stowed it into our packs. If all went well, we would emerge from the lower entrance and hike back up to Frank’s Nasty Pit to retrieve the ropes.

The initial cave passage was rather warm. Although it was already the first weekend of August, the lower cave entrance had just recently melted out of the snow. It was a hot day, and a strong wind was traveling in through the upper entrance and exiting via the lower entrance. We knew from our scouting trip the day before that the air leaving Spanish Cave was exceptionally cold, so we expected things to get much colder soon.

Of the 4 of us, Paul was the only one to have made the Spanish Cave through trip; however, he had never traversed the cave in this direction. It turned out that we had a relatively easy trip through the cave, in terms of route finding, but several dangerous moves were required. Most of the caving was difficult, but reasonably secure. We also lucked out in discovering that the ice which typically forms just inside the lower Spanish Cave entrance was essentially non-existent. This made one very dangerous traverse much less risky. On the way out of the cave, I used a small Brunton Weather Station to record the temperature of the cave. The indicator was still dropping when I started to become hypothermic, so I wedged the strat into the ceiling, crawled towards the exit, and left the thermometer behind to equilabrate. About 15 minutes later, with nice warm hands, I crawled back into the cave and retrieved the digital thermometer. About 34 degrees Farenheit! I wasn’t able to get a wind speed reading as the vane had frozen in place, but it was blowing pretty swiftly. I’m certain the wind chill would have dropped the apparent temperature far lower.

It would have been nice to crash back at the campsite and relax, but unfortunately Pete and I both had to be back early on Sunday. Therefore, we packed up camp and again shouldered our heavy packs. We were pretty tired, but we timed the hike about right and reached the Jeep just as things were beginning to get too dark to hike without fetching headlamps from our packs. Despite losing the trail a couple of times and having to negotiate a couple of stream crossings, the hike down was pretty easy and quick. It felt great to put on some dry socks and shoes and eat a few more calories before driving back to Boulder.

Dave’s Sprained Ankle

Sprained Ankle, The First Night
Sprained Ankle, The First Night

I’m learning a lot about what an actual ankle injury is really like. After a fun, if short, ice climbing season, Jess and I were climbing at The Spot, our local bouldering gym, when I fell from near the top of one of the boulders. It was a pretty typical fall and shouldn’t have resulted in an injury, but I managed to land on the very corner of one of the big crash pads. Instead of landing on my amply-padded butt, my right foot stuck to the mat and twisted underneath me as I rolled off to the side. It was immediately clear that this was way more than your typical twisted ankle.

I took some Advil after getting back home and put some ice on my ankle, but it was obvious the next morning that I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t even put any weight onto my ankle. Instead I hopped around the house as I tried to make an appointment to see an orthopedist. Jess was able to pick me up in the afternoon and drive me into Boulder where I hopped up the stairs and into the doctor’s office. After a little ribbing about not having crutches, nor having been to the ER the night before, they x-rayed my leg to look for breaks. As it turns out, I was free of broken bones, but I’d clearly badly injured my ankle. The doctor prescribed this brace for three weeks followed by a few weeks of physical therapy.

After about 6-8 weeks, I was finally moving around pretty well, but the ankle is still a little weak and prone to aggravation. It’s a little sad that the injury resulted from such a mundane fall, but I guess some stories just aren’t as good as others.

Bathroom Overhaul!

The Original Vinyl Shower Surround
The Original Vinyl Shower Surround

Wow!  Have you ever set out to tackle a home improvement project and felt like you were trundling a large boulder off a steep cliff?  (Actually illegal in Colorado)  Well, we certainly have.  We’d been planning to replace the cheap vinyl shower enclosure in our upstairs bathroom for some time, and a convergence of guests arriving around the July 4th holiday seemed like the perfect deadline/excuse for the task.  I insisted on starting about a month before our guests were to arrive, but Jess was certain that this was far more “contingency” time than could possibly be required.  How wrong she was!

Of course, if the project’s scope had remained constant, Jess would have been correct, but this project, like so many others, developed a life of its own. As we began the demolition, crossing the point-of-no-return, it became apparent that we were in for more than just tiling the shower enclosure.

Just Past the Point of no Return
Just Past the Point of no Return

We began by disassembling the existing hot/cold faucets and the tub filler sport. With the hardware out of the way, we turned our attention to the 3-piece vinyl shower enclosure. Grabbing the enclosure by the outside corners we quickly tore it away from the wall in large pieces.  The vinyl had become brittle and cracked in several places as it was pried from the underlying drywall.  Once the surround had been removed we took to the existing drywall with sledge hammers and fists, quickly filling the little room with dust and debris. Before too much time had passed we were rewarded with a lovely view of the interior walls surrounding our bathtub.

Next we prepped the walls for the tile by wrapping the entire wall with asphalt roofing paper.  The paper was applied in two long sheets that overlapped by several inches at the middle and fastened to the studs with an industrial staple gun. We marked the location of the studs on the roofing paper and cut and hung several sheets of 1/2″ Hardibacker directly to the studs. The tile I had selected was a rather heavy glazed porcelain available in several colors from Lowes and the backer board was essential if the new walls were to be capable of supporting the heavy tile work. After hanging the backer board, it was apparent that the new walls did not match up with the existing walls. This was due in part to our attempts to fix the terribly out-of-plumb walls and the faux plaster texture on the existing walls. Because of these two problems we decided to replace the remainder of the two walls adjacent the shower enclosure, and we stripped the faux texture from the wall opposite the shower. A couple of hours of additional demolition work, another trip to Home Depot, and a precarious drive home with several sheets of 1/2″ green board tied to the roof of Taco (our 2000 Dodge Neon), and we were ready to replace the drywall.

Four Tiles Down and About a Thousand to Go!
Four Tiles Down and About a Thousand to Go!

Of course, about this time we realized that we should really add a ceiling fan/overhead light to the bathroom.  For some reason the bathroom has never had any ventilation, and in the winter, this really causes problems.  The bathroom becomes extremely steamy and when the door open it sets of smoke detectors all over the house. While it’s nice to test the smoke detectors from time-to-time, 6:30 in the morning isn’t a universally accepted time!

The floor in the bathroom has always been an embarrassingly dingy black and white vinyl tile affair, and occasional leaks have brought water into the kitchen via the ceiling.  We knew that this was the proper time to do something with the floor, so about 6

Cutting Away the Water Damaged Subfloor
Cutting Away the Water Damaged Subfloor

additional trips to Home Depot and Lowes solidified a design that would use 12″ x 12″ glazed porcelain tiles that matched the tiles used in the shower enclosure.  Of course, when we removed the toilet and vanity, we discovered that the years of sloppy shower taking and the poorly constructed floor had led to extensive

water damage.  There was no way that we could simply ignore the problem, so a jigsaw and eventually a sawzall was needed to remove all of the rotten subfloor, and a patch was cut to size from 3/4″ plywood.  The patch actually spanned 2 floor joists and was pretty solid, but some additional support was necessary where the new subfloor met the existing subfloor at the edge of the tub.  A 2×4 was cut to span the joint and screwed into the existing subfloor on either side of the patch.  The new patch was then fastened to the 2×4 in order to provide some additional support.  A final touch was the liberal use of leveling compound to further repair the damaged subfloor.

After the leveling compound was dry, we attached 2 sheets of 1/4″ thick Hardibacker to the subfloor.  A cut-out for the closet flange (toilet drain) was made in one of the pieces of backer board, and the 2nd piece was trimmed slightly to match the small bathroom footprint.  Additional cuts were necessary for the hot and cold supply lines that energe from the floor under the vanity. The backer board was positioned perpendicular to the patch in the subfloor in order to add additional stability.

Jess Checks Out the Water Damage
Jess Checks Out the Water Damage

After the subfloor had been repaired and prepped for tile, the rest of the floor was actually quite easy. The large (12″ square) tiles we chose for the floor were very quick to install, and only a few needed to be cut on the wet saw. At that point, we installed the new combination vent/fan and grouted the shower enclosure and floor. After a couple of days, we were able to walk on the floor again, so we were right back to work taping the drywall and prepping everything for a nice paint job. Jess helped me pick out a nice tan color that complimented the tile design, and the Home Depot color computer picked out something vaguely whitish to go with the main color. I was pretty tired of being in the bathroom by this point, so Jess finished most of the painting, and in a nick of time. The day before the first of our July 4th guests were due to arrive, we scrambled to install the new vanity and sink in order to have a fully functional bathroom. Even with all of our hard work, we weren’t quite able to finish on time. We ran into some difficulties getting the new sink drain to align with the old p-trap and had to get creative with some flexible plumbing, and the sink wasn’t yet glued to the top of the vanity. We also hadn’t painted the ceiling either, but at least you could shower, and the bathroom looked a thousand times better.

The New Vanity, Floor, and Towel Bar
The New Vanity, Floor, and Towel Bar
The New Shower Tile
The New Shower Tile